Under growing pressure from right wing mindset in the country and changing security environments in the region; ostensibly, negotiations with TTP seems to be the most viable option for the govt. Having exhausted option of negotiations, hopefully, there will be no looking back. This will help mute right wing Islamic parties and PTI. Both Govt and TTP have already nominated negotiation teams, however, growing rhetoric on implementation of Shariah in the country and unrealistic demands put forward by TTP, rouse insincerity of approach to current parleys, which may end without constructive conclusion. Specially, attack on police personnel in Karachi on 14 February 14, should be enough indicator for hopefuls of negotiations to wake up and smell the coffee. Suddenly, Fazullah is being dubbed as Amir ul Momineen. The writing is on the wall, ‘Talks with Taliban is a waste of time’, and the time wasted in talks will only favour TTP. Past experience favours distrust on TTP, as they always used negotiations to gain time for regrouping, strengthening foothold in settled areas, mobilising support of right wing and averting possible full scale military operation against them. Presently, the only thing that makes TTP vulnerable is possibility of redundancy due to proposed US exit by the end of the year. Anti-Pakistan elements may curb TTP funding which is the lifeline of mercenary warfare. Yet, it is not reason enough to make ongoing negotiations with TTP successful. The whole scenario suggests that there will be some tough days ahead for Decision Makers of the state. It is more important to prepare ourselves for situation arising out of ‘failed negotiations’.
It has somehow crawled deep in to our national psyche that instead of thinking ahead, we have developed this lethargic habit of continuous firefighting, rather than preventing the fire from igniting in the first place. More important issue at hand is the situation developing after US exit from Afghanistan. This is serious milestone and it should be taken seriously, only if we understand the gravity of scenario emerging in the region after US’ complete or partial departure.
Pakistan has been able to maintain fairly adequate relations with Afghan Taliban over the past two decades. Time to yield pro-Taliban policy is nearing as US has already announced exit from Afghanistan this year. However, TTP has been created as a buffer between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban. These mercenaries have created enough trouble for the state of Pakistan in recent past. Those invested in TTP would like her to keep pushing the anti-Pakistan agenda. After US exit, it would not be long before Afghan Taliban take over Afghanistan, foreseeing which Mr Karzai has already started negotiating with them. At the same time, anti-Pakistan forces must do all they can to push a deeper wedge between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban by orchestrating a stronger nexus between Afghan Taliban and TTP. Keeping this whole situation in view, it is imperative that we brace for the change in Afghanistan and be absolutely clear in our policy towards Afghanistan, Afghan Taliban, TTP, formation of various coalitions and our response to all likely contingencies arising out of these coalitions.
Immediately, after US exit, formation of coalition govt between Afghan Taliban and Karzai establishment is inevitable scenario. Taliban will get the lion’s share in running the state affairs. Otherwise, Taliban taking over Afghanistan by force will be a matter of days rather than months. Taliban are a force to reckon with and they will definitely have a say in post US Afghanistan. It all looks good from Pakistan’s perspective. But what will be the role of TTP in this scenario? Those who invested so much in destablising Afghanistan and Pakistan will not like a coalition forming between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban because it will nullify the very purpose of creation of TTP. TTP has its own fear of redundancy because if the funding stops, they will go out of job. It may lose relevance in emerging equation. So, those who planted TTP between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban would like it to remain a thorn in the side.
Million dollar question is how TTP can remain relevant after US exit? It has to keep both ends tidy i.e. formation of coalition with Afghan Taliban and be recognized as a stake holder in the eyes of people and state of Pakistan. This clearly is visible in their willingness to negotiate with the govt of Pakistan. These talks will fail but TTP will walk out of these talks as winners. Govt’s willingness to talk to them affords them a tacit approval and recognition as stakeholders which has a greater symbolic value than it appears.
Coming over to policy line that Govt of Pakistan needs to adopt after US exit from Afghanistan. We have to remain proactive in this scenario otherwise this situation will go down, like so many others in the past, as a missed opportunity. Few extreme essentials are as under:-
1. We must covertly maintain strong link with Afghan Taliban. Formalise details of coalition with Afghan Taliban before the US exit from Afghanistan.
2. Karzai Govt is extremely vulnerable at this point in time. In post US scenario, Mr Karzai’s Govt may appear least significant stakeholder, but we must continue with confidence building measures with Afghan govt incumbent.
3. TTP must not run away with ongoing peace parleys. We must ensure segmentation of TTP splinter groups. After segregation we must go after TTP Shura which is centre of gravity of TTP movement/ mercenary war. We must settle issue of TTP before US exit, otherwise, this monster will cause unmitigated damage to Pakistan.
4. Discourage and prevent formation of a formal coalition between TTP and Afghan Taliban. Funders and founding fathers of TTP will do all they can to form this nexus. However, from Pakistan’s perspective, it is a recipe for disaster. This can result in unprecedented bloodbath in the region.
5. With US exit, threat to US forces in Afghanistan will automatically diminish. Drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory must stop.